Meaningful Nature Experience, Research Insights 3

The essence of synchronicity as a meaningful nature experience

How is synchronicity experienced with non-human nature? What does it feel like to live through that moment?

Extensive analysis of accounts and stories submitted as part of research on of meaningful nature experience (MNE), has allowed us to plumb the depths of this phenomena in order reveal its essence. Following on from an earlier post on the essence of meaningful nature experience in general, this post focuses on synchronicity as a distinct subset of these MNEs. The following rich description seeks to recreate (from a phenomenological perspective) what these experiences actually ‘feel’ like as they are lived in their immediacy.

Synchronicity mystifies. We experience it as an unusual coinciding of events or phenomena occurring in nature or with nature. We immediately sense that there are dimensions to the experience which are out of the ordinary. In particular, the timing is uncanny: we recognize a striking paralleling between two otherwise independent events, possibly a remarkable congruence between our ‘inner’ mental or emotional state and that which is unfolding in the ‘outer’ physical reality. It may also be that we are struck by a string of external events which have comparable content, and retain (or gain increasing) meaning through their repeated occurrence.

Prior to the event we are absorbed with emotive reflection about deep questions or tensions in our life, uncertainty over key decisions which lie ahead, or working through feelings of love or grief about relationships past and present. We seek succour through nature. Separately, or in addition to, we have proactively engaged in an activity which has honed our intent, sharpened attention, quietened the mind or primed our perception – e.g. meditation, breathing or sensory intensification exercises, ceremony, prayer, acts of creative expression – or undertaken a new journey which forced us out of our comfort zone. We move into a heightened state of awareness and feel relaxed, still and appreciative or feel enlivened and keyed up about ‘the unknown’ that lies ahead. We cultivate a more present, focused and connected state of being. Irrespective of whether or how it can be articulated, something in our everyday consciousness has shifted.

“These manifestations appear as though nature has held up a mercurial mirror to the innermost workings of our mind.”

Something about our demeanour carries a degree of openness. We (temporarily) suspend judgement over what outcomes may arise. We harbour anticipation: a non-attached expectancy for the unexpected. The searching focus of our (sub)conscious attention is momentarily met and fulfilled through the unexpected phenomena arising in nature. We are arrested by the blatant behaviour of a bird, the curious appearance of an insect, the oddly mysterious movements of a mammal or the remarkable resonant patterning in water or sky. These manifestations appear as though nature has held up a mirror to the innermost workings of our mind. We feel acknowledged, understood and emotionally uplifted.

Insight strikes us. Through a series of indefinable and indelible moments, the unfolding event presents a message, sign, omen, symbol, epiphany, revelation or metaphor which begs to be decoded. Something meaningful has manifested itself and this may be grasped within an instant – we feel conviction that this is the right path, a ‘knowing’ of that which cannot be fully articulated, but only that a conscious or subconscious call for guidance has been answered. We may subsequently feel we have to yet grasp the full meaning – and thus seek to deepen our understanding through internal reflection and external interpretation. Alternatively, no further analysis may be necessary: we simply feel confirmation of being ‘in the flow’ of purposeful living – we are on ‘the right path’.

We realize that we have come ‘to know’ in a way not usually experienced: somehow, we obtained information through other non-rational, non-reasoned, non-local forms of perception. Yet in its immediacy, we honour and credit that as coming from a place of greater wisdom. Our accepted understandings of cause and effect are challenged; we are intrigued by a notable event that should not normally have occurred and are therefore unable to explain the unlikelihood in conventional terms. If we are aware of more transcendent (e.g. quantum, divine) forms of causation, then this event provides experiential confirmation of that tantalizing possibility.

The meeting of external phenomena with the inner world fuses the experience, but it is the reflective inner exploration that infuses the meaning. The continuous interplay and merging between what happened ‘out there’ with what is going ‘in here’ fuels our searching interpretation. We direct our slightly bewildered attention inward as we seek to reveal that which remains partially obscured behind the veil of accepted ‘reality’. We try to marry the internal and external into an integrated awareness arising out of our meaning-making. Shrouded in a dawn or dusk setting, we gaze into nature and look back into ourselves – and quietly contemplate the telling reflection.

The entwining of inner and outer content spawns interconnections. Walls between mind and matter, human and animal, soul and spirit, near and far, past and present, dreaming and wakened, living and dead are now permeable. We choose a fissure to peer through – and we see. We experience connections and wisdom previously thought to be beyond the limits of ourselves or the human and animal species. We have suddenly been opened to that which was previously inaccessible or unimaginable. We are heartened in being able to reconnect with family lost or afar and are delightfully bemused at the possibility of meaningful communication with an animal, rock or tree. We may experience divine purpose, spirit, ancestral forces or soul awakening. We feel interconnectedness at any, every, or oscillating between all of these levels – a visceral experience of totality.

“Our desire to share the encounter with others is matched by a reluctance which knows that words cannot convey the personal meaning that permeated our core.”

First-time experiences stun, amaze and bewilder. Subsequent experiences motivate, reassure and inspire. Emotions ranging from awe and joyous upliftment to humility and intense appreciation permeate our being. In contrast, perceiving ‘bad omens’ brings anxiety and foreboding of what may transpire. Yet, we recognize the experience as a gift or blessing – a moment of grace through which we feel acknowledged as a purposeful part of wisdom greater than our thinking selves. The feeling of ‘I am not alone’ provides solace. Newfound fascination piques our curiosity; we seek explanations or reliable ways in which to make such experiences a regular feature within our lives. We feel that, with the right attention, reflection and action, these events can transform us.

But we struggle to describe the experience. In the moment, it is difficult to articulate. Upon reflection, it may feel awkward or illusory. Our desire to share the encounter with others is matched by a reluctance which knows that words cannot convey the personal meaning that permeated our core. The story might simply be lost on others. There is an added ineffable dimension which renders verbal language inadequate: trying to speak that which cannot be spoken. We may feel that attempts to convey the experience to others somehow dilutes and displaces the event’s power and meaning. It is a profound and evolving realization that synchronicity fully described and intellectualized is, ultimately, not the true synchronicity.1


Summary: an invariant structure of synchronicity as a MNE

In exploring the experience of synchronicity as a meaningful nature experience and, in identifying those threads which permeates the individual and collective accounts, commonly repeated themes may be identified. Synchronicity has largely the same sensory, emotional or perceptual intensity and constants as general meaningful nature experience. Yet, it somehow remains distinctive, with a defining quality. The emergent structures which give synchronicity its unique character – and without which it would not be what it is – are synthesized as follows:

  • Phenomena of comparable content suddenly and strikingly intersect; paralleling events coincide and pattern in an unlikely and meaningful way, whereby phenomena of nature act as the external medium.
  • A ‘normal’, accepted and causal explanation is seemingly elusive.
  • The immediate experience is one of connection(s) and insight: a sense of ‘knowing’ as revealed through the presence of another form of wisdom is felt as significant.
  • The event is recognized or revealed as a response related to one’s current focus of attention, state of consciousness and/or signpost linked to one’s purpose or stage in life.
  • Synchronicity is usually of greater frequency and intensity during periods in wilder nature but is less dependent on external variables than general MNE.
  • The ‘soul-fed’ intensity of the inner personal context through thought (or lack of) and turbulent emotional state (of which we are not always aware of) feels like it has provoked the outer situational context into evocative conversation.
  • Synchronicity as a MNE happens unexpectedly anywhere, anytime, anyhow.

See also: What is nature-based synchronicity?

1 This idea resonates with the Tâo Te Ching: “The Tâo that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tâo. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.”
Zylstra, M. J. 2014. Exploring meaningful nature experience, connectedness with nature and the revitalization of transformative education for sustainability. PhD dissertation. Dept. Conservation Ecology & Entomology, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch. This adapted text is extracted from Chapter 4.3, pp259-260.

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  • Madeline Audrey Bruce says: February 17, 2015 at 5:50 am

    I have wanted to see a whale in the ocean. I spent weeks staying at an oceanside retreat, hoping to see even a far-off sign of a whale spouting water, anything. When it did happen, years later, it was more, better, than I could have dreamed of, designed, it seemed, by a genius, unseen hand,. On the Gabriola Ferry a Humpback whale came close to us and the Captain suggested we go out on deck and watch. My first sight of him was through an opening in the fence of the deck, as if through a picture frame. Stunning. The whale breached more than a dozen times, close to the ferry, which had stopped for him. I could hear people talking in the background, but I was speechless, dazzled, transported. – Nanaimo, B. C. Canada.

    • Matthew Zylstra says: February 24, 2015 at 4:13 pm

      Thanks Madeline, what a beautiful story and well worth the wait by the sounds of it. Whilst I am grateful to have seen humpbacks performing breathtaking breaches at distance, I am awaiting the day when I can view such an episode at close range. But I’ll leave that to the unseen hand… :)

      • madeline A. Bruce says: July 16, 2015 at 5:59 pm

        His plans for us are better than anything we could dream up for ourselves. – Nanaimo, B. C.


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